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The Cancer FIGHTER: Traditional treatment Option 3: Radiation

By Julia Oyefunke Fortune

This form of treatment uses high doses of radiation to essentially kill any existing cancer cells. We are all familiar with radiation. Every time we have an x-ray we are subjected to low-dose radiation. I learned that there are two forms of radiation therapy used to treat cancer:

Patients are either given external beam radiation, which is simply radiation that is aimed at the specifi c cancer area by a machine outside your body, or internal radiation, which is administered inside your body through a capsule or liquid that is targeted to the specifi c cancer site. Patients can be given both types of radiation, or radiation therapy can also be used in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy.

While the theory behind radiation sounds simple and even harmless since it is designed to merely killing off existing cancer cells, the truth is radiation therapy may cause not only immediate side eff ects such as weakness and vomiting, but the majority of side eff ects can occur months and even years after treatment.

Side eff ects of radiation are generally divided into the following three categories:

1. Acute (occurring 1-6 weeks after treatment)

2. Early delayed injury (3 weeks to several months following treatment)

3. Late delayed injury (months to years after radiation)

Delayed toxic eff ects seem to be more severe and usually irreversible.

In some cases, radiation has caused such serious conditions as spontaneous collapse of the lungs, mesothelioma (cancer in the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers most of the body’s internal organs) and even lung cancer. When used in conjunction with other forms of treatment such as surgery or chemotherapy, radiation therapy can cause thymic cysts, calcifi ed lymph nodes, and esophageal injuries.

Radiation can cause long-term heart problems such as premature narrowing or restriction of the arteries, hardening of the aorta, infl ammation of the pericardium (a thin fi brous membrane sac that surrounds the heart,) damage to the heart valves and such things as heart murmurs or fluttering.

My own studies also suggested that women who undergo thoracic irradiation before the age of 30 have an increased risk of developing a second breast cancer. While radiation-induced sarcomas (cancers) are relatively infrequent (about 5 percent of all patients receiving radiation will develop these secondary cancers,) they are a defi nite possibility and typically 85 percent  of patients developing these cancers are then given a poor prognosis for recovery.


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